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Cold LED light threatens Nordic 'hygge'

Thursday 27 Jul 17


Carsten Dam-Hansen
Senior Researcher
DTU Electro
+45 46 77 45 13

HISTORY of LED lighting

Photo: Electronics Weekly


H. J. Round reports the first light emitted by a semiconductor connection.



Nick Holonyak from General Electric develops the first LED—a light diode capable of emitting red light.


Researchers around the world try to create light diodes that can emit blue light.



Japanese-born Shuji Nakamura presents a light diode that emits blue light. Together with two other Japanese researchers, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014 for his research.


In the EU, incandescent bulbs are phased out to reduce electricity consumption, markedly improving market conditions for LED bulbs.

Scandinavian affinity for warm lighting is threatened by international developments within LED lighting. Consumers should stand up and fight, says the author Tor Nørretranders.

Last year, nine (yes, nine!) books were published in the UK about Danish hygge, according to The Guardian which published a long article in autumn 2016 about the concept of hygge. Danish hygge was observed, defined, and described as being anything from wool socks, a good bottle of wine, fried bacon, and confectionery to a sense of community and candles. Danes might raise their eyebrows at the list, but as far as candles are concerned, the Brits might be onto something, believes the author Tor Nørretranders.

In 2015, he published the book Light! together with the artist OIafur Eliasson, in which he explores and describes the properties of different light sources—from candlelight and the incandescent bulb and fluorescent tubes to low-energy bulbs and the latest technology, LEDs.

“Candles create an immediate and real sense of hygge, which plays an important role in Danish culture, if not Nordic culture as a whole. Because there is something about candlelight that Scandinavians love: It is warm, it comes from a naked flame, and it casts shadows and creates a play of light. And then, just like sunlight and incandescent bulbs, it renders colours beautifully,” says Tor Nørretranders. 

Fluorescent lamps OK in the south

Tor Nørretranders believes that we have to look to nature to understand Scandinavians’ passion for good lighting—and why people from southern climes have other preferences:

“If you’ve ever lived close to the Equator, then you will know how short the transition is between day and night. One moment it’s day, and the next it’s night. However, up in the north, the sunset is not nearly as abrupt. The sun takes a much longer path with glowing sunsets and sunrises. We have dusk and the twilight hour. And living where we do, we have become accustomed to a wide spectrum of different shades. In the south, they probably see sunlight a bit like a lamp: it’s either on or off. Therefore, they have no problem with fluorescent strip lighting on their living room ceilings. Moreover, they don’t have to have their lights switched on for so many hours, while in the Nordic countries we have to endure several months a year when it is largely dark. Therefore, the quality of the electric light is hugely important for us,” explains Tor Nørretranders.

These different lighting preferences were not a problem in the glory days of the incandescent light bulb. But, as everyone knows, those days are over. And now Danes are searching desperately to find a lighting solution that provides a warm light, but also good colour rendering, so the colours of our surroundings look natural. However, this presents something of a challenge, because warm light and good colour rendering are properties that are hard to find in low-energy bulbs, fluorescent tubes and the many different LED light bulbs.

Unfortunately, what Scandinavians want from their lighting implies increased power consumption, which runs contrary to the general development within LED lighting:

“The general attitude among lighting manufacturers and the authorities in different countries is that technological developments must seek to make LED lighting as energy-efficient as possible. But if this is the only parameter governing development, we risk a situation where we basically end up with LED lighting that produces a cold white light, dazzles, and which does not provide the best colour rendering. And nor does it harmonize well with our Nordic light culture,” explains Senior Scientist Carsten Dam-Hansen from DTU Fotonik, which is also a member of the International Energy Agency’s 4E Solid State Lighting Annex, which brings together experts with LED expertise seeking to influence the development of the technology.

Large power savings still achievable

Technologically, nothing stands in the way of producing LED lamps that live up to Scandinavian requirements as regards good lighting. Even if it costs more in electricity, we are, however, still a far cry from using just as much electricity as back in the days of the incandescent bulb:

“Currently, the most energy-efficient LED lamp is ten times more efficient than the incandescent light bulb. In other words, an LED uses only one-tenth of the power used by an incandescent light bulb to produce the same amount of light. When the LED is adapted to meet Nordic needs, however, we get a power saving factor of 8. This, of course, means a smaller power saving, but it is nevertheless huge compared to incandescent bulbs,” says Carsten Dam-Hansen.

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